Poverty of ambition is a thing of the past

20th June 2008 at 01:00
The pupils at Castlemilk High can sum up why their school has received the best ever report for a Glasgow secondary - positive thinking and motivation
The pupils at Castlemilk High can sum up why their school has received the best ever report for a Glasgow secondary - positive thinking and motivation.

"All the staff believe we can be successful," says Darin Gardiner, an S4 pupil who has been in the fast-track Standard grade English class, one of a number of initiatives which has raised attainment, particularly in English and maths.

He hopes to become a teacher when he leaves school; his friend, Drew Blackett, wants to study law at university rather than follow his father into a trade; and Danielle McIlroy, an S6 pupil, has been inspired by the head of the faculty of performing arts, Ruth Stevenson, to study drama at Stow College next year, which she hopes will be followed by a place at the Royal Scottish Academy for Music and Drama.

Not all the pupils who leave Castlemilk High aspire to go into higher education, but headteacher Brian McAlinden is determined that, whatever their destination, the school will challenge the poverty of ambition that has dogged young people from the area in the past.

"Halfway through the inspection, the inspectors said they felt there was 'something happening' in this school, but they couldn't put their finger on it," said Mr McAlinden. "They said they were humbled to have been part of this inspection."

By the end of the inspection, they had concluded that the special element was the pupils' self-belief. The pupils' comments suggest that their confidence is due in large part to the role-models offered by their teachers.

Of Ruth Stevenson, who is responsible for putting on school shows, Danielle McIlroy says: "She's achieved 'thousands' in her life".

Darin Gardiner says of Willie Wight, the depute head who runs the football team: "He'll come out to your house in his motor to make sure you're there, even if you don't have a game. He makes you turn up because he says that's how everyone improves."

Drew Blackett joins in the praise of Mr Wight (who has just been appointed the new head of Glasgow's Hillhead High): "He is just a regular guy from Easterhouse, but what he has achieved is tremendous."

Three years ago, 34 per cent of Castlemilk's school-leavers were headed for the "black hole" of not being in education, employment or training, the category now described by the SNP Government as requiring "more choices, more chances". Last year, that figure had dropped to 9 per cent and Mr McAlinden's target is zero.

This week, HM Inspectorate of Education rated the school "excellent" in six areas - care, welfare and development; expectations and promoting achievement; equality and fairness; involving parents, carers and families; developing people and partnerships; and the headteacher's leadership of improvement and change. A further eight areas were rated very good, two good and one adequate.

In a school where half the pupils are entitled to free school meals, exam attainment has improved significantly: in 5-14 results from 2003-07, the percentage of S2 pupils reaching Level E has risen from 17 per cent to 52 per cent; in writing, from 12 per cent to 43 per cent; and in maths, from 25 per cent to 51 per cent. Castlemilk outperforms comparator schools in 12 out of 19 categories and is in line with them in five areas.

Mr McAlinden ruled out early presentation of pupils in S3 for Standard grade or Intermediate exams. "I was not convinced it suited the needs of our pupils in terms of their maturity," he said.

Instead, the school has fast-tracked a class in English and maths. These more able pupils start their Standard grade course towards the end of S2 and cover the course by Christmas of S4, allowing them to start on Higher work earlier. Just before sitting the exam, they do revision of the Standard grade work.

On the basis of prelim results, Mr McAlinden expects to see much improved results this year at Credit for the first cohort to do this.

Staff also strive to give pupils access to wider achievements. In 2005, Castlemilk High, along with its neighbouring denominational neighbour St Margaret Mary's Secondary, was awarded School of Ambition status. Rather than spend the money on staffing, Mr McAlinden has invested in sustainable projects focused on raising attainment and achievement - including giving S6 pupils the chance to learn to drive. Staff support the 73 pupils who have so far taken up the opportunity by working with them on the theory part; 17 have so far passed their test.

The pound;300,000 funding from the Schools of Ambition programme is also benefiting the staff: the two schools have shared CPD opportunities to improve their learning and teaching. Joint timetabling has allowed upper school students to take a greater range of subjects.

Castlemilk has focused on improving attendance, raising its pupils' self-belief, and engaging with parents and the local business community. Employers give pupils practice in job interview techniques as well as running a challenge for teams along similar lines to Sir Alan Sugar's The Apprentice TV series - without the demotivating "You're fired!" element.

Wider achievement is reflected in the use of enterprise education in all departments, and in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, which has 13 pupils with gold awards in recognition of their achievement in raising funds for a trip to Uganda to build a water well.

- Meanwhile, St Ninian's Primary in Stirling has been judged excellent in six areas and very good in a further eight. The HMIE report described as sector-leading the innovative curriculum, the development of writing and the quality of children's learning experiences in environmental studies. Excellence was also recognised in the headteacher's leadership, leadership across the school and the leadership of improvement and change across the school.

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